To churchgoers, Denzel Washington comes across as the ideal movie star. An Oscar winner accepted among the mainstream elite, he is also open, even evangelical, about his Christian beliefs.

In person, the 62-year-old speaks like a Pentecostal preacher about both Christ and his new movie, Roman J. Israel, Esq. He says the legal drama, like many other projects in his repertoire, is influenced by his faith.

“I’m doing what God told me to do from the beginning,” Washington told reporters including Christianity Today. “It was prophesied that I would travel the world and preach to millions of people. It was prophesied when I was 20. I thought it [would be] through my work, and it has been.”

With a pitchman like that, it is no surprise that Hollywood would maximize Washington’s personal piety by attempting to draw faith audiences to his movies, even violent and R-rated ones like 2010’s Book of Eli and 2004’s Man on Fire.

Sony and WIT, a niche public relations company hired specifically to market films to faith communities, flew religion entertainment reporters out to Los Angeles this month as part of a full-court attempt to convince religious moviegoers to embrace Roman J. Israel, Esq. The film is about an experienced, but autistic, defense attorney who must learn to negotiate his values when he’s forced to take over the business side of a historic civil rights firm in Los Angeles.

Hollywood has awakened to the power of church audiences, particularly following the success of 2004’s The Passion of the Christ, as well as Christian movies that turned out to be relative box office hits like Heaven Is For Real, God’s Not Dead, and War Room.

Secular movies ranging from 2013’s ...

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